Apr 24, 2013

What I learned at SXSW… I’m too Bro to be a Hipster, yet too Hipster to be a Bro

2013 was my fifth consecutive year attending the music portion of the SXSW conference, however it was the first time that I was less concerned about the music and more focused on experiential marketing and branding. In the madness that was hosting three events for Ninkasi the following observations were first published over at Marketing Fun With Mike, but since SXSW is in the title you lonely music elitists may enjoy.

In the highly evolved digital data mining era, where frighteningly detailed information about any individual is readily available, how does a company fail to reach target consumers? Despite clever messages, multi-platform advertising and unprecedented incentive programs (Axe is offering a trip to space) there may be an emerging demographic slipping through the cracks.

In addition to the mass consumer, marketers need “tastemakers” and “influencers” within each demographic that actually have enough disposable income to purchase their product. The ideal tastemaker has a large social network and willingness to advocate the products they like. And when you look at the marketing campaigns aimed at the educated, unmarried, semi-professional “Man-Boy” demographic you are pretty much relegated to two subsets: The Hipster and The Bro.

Do I really think either of these demographics exist? Would anyone actually self-identify as a Hipster? A Bro? Irrelevant. Do I constantly feel as if advertisers are forcing me to be one or the other? Absolutely!

Though I admit I am of the “Man-Boy” demo, I feel myself, like many others are too Bro to be a Hipster and too Hipster to be a Bro.

Fortunately, I can’t take credit for the Hipster/Bro paradigm and will never have to explain if I’m being serious or ironic. The phrase actually came from a conversation I had with a member of Rare Monk after a performance at a client event in Austin during SXSW.

As legend has it, the phrase was on a sticker in a bathroom of a venue in their hometown of Portland, OR. And while I can’t verify it’s actual existence at this point, they, like myself, begrudgingly self-identified.

Who am I? Well, I take pride in my knowledge of indie music and most things relevant, but I’m not a judgmental “artist” of the trend chasing variety. Additionally, I enjoy competitive sports, but you won’t find me wearing a skull embroidered t-shirt pounding Jager shots while cheering on a UFC fight at Hooters. I’m lucky enough to work in a creative field but it’s not necessarily a lifestyle. I’m an inbetweener who marketers may be trying to reach, but if so, they’re doing it all wrong.

Take this K-Mart commercial for example:

The commercial is genuinely funny and I’ve only seen it advertised on Facebook. However the characters in the commercial are definitely older than the daily Facebook user who would enjoy it most. Not to mention K-Mart’s merchandise is hardly appealing to someone used to paying $25 for an Homage t-shirt.

And what about the random Little Caesar’s commercials?

Once again brilliant, successfully airing on television during sporting events, but people who find humor in the absurd are generally conscious of where their food is sourced. Sorry LC, but imitation cheese on cardboard is hardly edible, let alone organic.

The messages and platforms appear correct, so maybe it’s the products that are wrong.

How do I decide where to shop and eat? As a mass consumer, my decision making process involves a consultation with my socially, politically and environmentally semi-consciousness, although admittedly vainglorious. The actual vetting process is usually by the referral of friends without day jobs… a combination of the bar employed, self-employed and unemployed.

These friends get to stay out late, sleep in late and spend hours each day reading blogs and trolling social networking sites. Unfortunately for me, I’m getting older, spending more time focused on my career and as a result slowly losing touch with said friends. And while I realize that I can no longer keep up, I’m not giving up my Man-Boy status and I’ll be damned if I get duped into eating Little Caesars or shopping at K-Mart.

What’s the remedy? I don’t have a panacea, but I’d start by using the plethora of digital analytic tools to properly get to know both the current and target consumer equally. If you’re going to launch a campaign aimed at the Hipster/Bro demo, focus on what current and target consumers have in common and avoid pitting them against each other. Always start with a new or struggling product line rather than the entire brand. In this age of virality, the creative concept of the campaign itself can overshadow the message or even your entire brand. Not involving your brand will make distancing yourself from the hype machine or a bad decision more seamless. And just like the Hipsters and Bros themselves, stop being too cool for your own good.

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